23 May 2009

Learning Styles Don't Exist?

I used to think that I was a visual / kinesthetic learner, that is because I just could not learn mathematics and I currently love learning by seeing and doing. As a teacher educator, I am really discouraged by the blind faith of my undergraduates about learning styles; likewise, most of us know that learning styles theory is not valid and there are no controversial discussions of them in any textbook for teachers.

Concerning Daniel Willingham's video, his point of view is that there is no credible evidence to support learning styles, as well as, a valid and reliable method of determining one's learning style. This is a strong argument in favor of his theory: "Discussions of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners are common in educational literature, teacher-preparation programs, and professional development workshops. The theory that students learn more when content is presented in their best modality seems to make sense, seems to be supported by classroom experiences, and offers the hope of maximizing each child’s learning by planning different lessons for each type of learner. For example, within one kindergarten class, the auditory learner could listen to stories about different holidays around the world, while the visual learner examined pictures of holiday celebrants, and the kinesthetic learner handled costumes and artifacts associated with the holidays. But is the theory correct? And, whether or not the theory is correct, might it not also be true that all of the kindergartners would learn the most about holidays by listening to stories, looking at pictures, and handling costumes?" (Willingham 2005)

Consequently, the controversy will continue and taking into account that the most important aspect is the nature of the topic the students are discussing, and that should determine how to approach the topic. They might encode an experience auditorily and visually, but which of these two is more important, it will depend on the stimulus and how they interpret it. Also, If students are lost and someone draws them a map, they are going to rely on visual data. If someone tells them how to find their destination, They are going to use auditory data. But either method should get them where they are going. Finally, we should use these theories only to remind ourselves to make our classes varied and lively for our students.

Daniel T. Willingham is professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Cognition: The Thinking Animal. His research focuses on the role of consciousness in learning.

Source: Willingham, D. T. (2005) Do visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners need visual, auditory, and kinesthetic instruction? American Educator, Summer, 31-35, 44.
Reprinted in Organization for Quality Education Forum (2005). 14, 12

Adapted by: Victor Hugo ROJAS B. (2009) Associate professor of Language Teacher Education at UNE & UNMSM


  1. I think that a person can catch information through different ways, but it is not enough to label people. I think teachers must only take account three important aspects: visual, auditory and movement (doing) in working with the students in the classroom and present the lessons integrating these aspects.

  2. I think that the problem is that there are so many different ways of looking at learning styles: field dependent or independent; visual, kinesthic, auditory; visual, kinesthetic, auditory and tactile...this is confusing to both teacher and learner. A unified way of looking at learning styles would go a long way towards convincing people of its usefulness.
    Greetings from Mexico.